Can people evolve over time, change their thinking patterns? Of course. Can people change their thought processes about previously deep-seated belief systems? Absolutely. Can people have regrets about previously held positions and have shame about them? You bet. But should we give any credibility at all to someone who has only changed his tune because, suddenly, those deep-seated belief systems he held so dearly have become inconvenient?
Ohio Senator Rob Portman has spent a couple of decades battling against gay rights. He's voted for amendments against same-sex marriage, supported bans on gay adoption, was one of the co-sponsors of the Defense of Marriage Act (you know, that whole "one man/one woman and nothing more or less" thing), seemed fairly sure that employers should be able to fire employees for gayness, and has been in complete lockstep with the GOP's anti-gay theme. (One wouldn't see any rainbows at CPAC - even GOProud was not given a seat at the table this year.) But then, suddenly, in a moment of clarity and sudden insight, Portman - whose son Will came out two years ago and who has apparently wrestled mightily with the horrifying concept of having a gay kid - has done a quick 180 and decided same-sex marriage is fine and dandy.
One might think that Portman is courageous, bucking the GOP the way he is, considering that two-thirds of GOP voters don't believe in same-sex marriage, civil unions, or anything resembling love relationships for gay people. Except, his rhetoric running in tandem with his sudden turnaround on the gay marriage issue rings hollow. In The Columbus Dispatch op-ed, the forum he used to publicly announce his new-found open-mindedness on gay marriage, Portman wrote, in pertinent part:
"I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.
That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.
Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay . . . We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.
At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.
I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God."
One of a couple of things seem to be happening here, neither of them admirable. Either Portman has decided, in a coldly calculated manner, that it's politically expedient to back off his anti-gay stance, given that 52% of Ohioans now support gay marriage (and how convenient it is that he has a gay son he can use as a tool to help him navigate these choppy waters within the GOP), or he simply never gave a fig about other peoples' children when he was attempting to ban everything smacking of gayness, and it's only become an issue because it's now his child and his life that matters. The one thing that strains credulity is his stated position in the op-ed. After all, if Portman now believes the Bible has "overarching themes of love and compassion," what did he think the Bible's theme was when he was turning his back on gay rights? And is it only now that it occurs to him that sisters and brothers should all have the same rights, the same "happiness and fulfillment," regardless of their sexual orientation?
If Portman's beliefs about gay marriage being a very bad thing sprang from his christian faith and belief system, then, without question, his christian faith and, in fact, his entire belief system must logically be fungible.
Portman is behaving as if he discovered the holy grail - except here's the thing: We who believe in the rights of all wouldn't have had to wrestle with the moral quandary of what to do with this gay male child. We who believe in the rights of all wouldn't have had to pen an op-ed to express our amazement at our self-transformation from bigot to benevolence in the face of a gay child. We who believe in the rights of all would have thought Will was A-okay without all the hand-twisting and garment-rending and struggles of faith and commitment to GOP bigotry versus child love.
Portman's newly discovered concepts, as startling as they might be to him, are things we all already knew. We already knew that Will had full rights to love, happiness and fulfillment, gay or straight; we already knew Will was the same person he always was; we already knew that sexual orientation shouldn't get in the way of opportunity; and we already knew that christianity and rights for all have never been mutually exclusive.
Whether for political expedience or as a political gimmick or just because he doesn't want his child denied rights, Portman has suddenly declared that gays are people too. Good luck to Will: Even now that he's been ostensibly welcomed into the fold, he's gotta know that his pops is a nitwit and hypocrite of the first order.